, Volume 134, Issue 1-3, pp 161-175
Date: 07 Mar 2007

Factors affecting river health and its assessment over broad geographic ranges: The Western Australian experience

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Abstract

AusRivAS is an Australia-wide program that measures river condition using predictive models to compare the macroinvertebrate families occurring at a river site with those expected if the site were in natural condition. Results of assessment of 685 sites across all major rivers in Western Australia are presented. Most rivers were in relatively natural condition in the northern half of the state where the human population is low and pastoralism is the major land use. In the south, where the human population is higher and agriculture is more intensive, rivers were mostly more disturbed. AusRivAS assessment produced some erroneous results in rivers of the south-west cropping zone because of the lack of appropriate reference site groups and biased distribution of sampling sites. Collecting low numbers of animals from many forested streams, because of low stream productivity and samples that were difficult to sort, also affected assessments. Overall, however, AusRivAs assessment identified catchment processes that were inimical to river health. These processes included salinisation, high nutrient and organic loads, erosion and loss of riparian vegetation. River regulation, channel modification and fire were also associated with river degradation. As is the case with other assessment methods, one-off sampling at individual sites using AusRivAS may be misleading. Seasonal drought, in particular, may make it difficult to relate conditions at the time of sampling to longer-term river health. AusRivAS has shown river condition in Western Australia is not markedly different from other parts of Australia which, as a whole, lacks the substantial segments of severely degraded river systems reported in England.